HC Deb 16 May 1985 vol 79 cc498-506 3.59 pm
Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 20 MAY — There will he a debate on a Government motion on the report of the Auld committee of inquiry into proposals to amend the Shops Acts, Command No. 9376.

TUESDAY 21 MAY AND WEDNESDAY 22 MAY —Remaining stages of the Transport Bill.

At the end on Wednesday, motion on the Royal Ordnance Factories Trading Fund (Revocation and Repeal) Order.

THURSDAY 23 MAY—A debate on the Commission for Racial Equality report on immigration control procedures on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at seven o'clock.

FRIDAY 24 MAY-It will be proposed that the House should rise for the spring Adjournment until Monday 3 June.

Mr. Kinnock

I appreciate that the Government have problems with their mutinous ranks, but as the debate on the Auld report next Monday clearly involves matters of personal conscience and conviction, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain why the Government are not observing the honourable convention of the House and permitting a free vote among Conservative Members on the substantive motion, as we on these Benches shall be doing? Will he discuss the matter with the Patronage Secretary and come to a more agreeable and reasonable position on Conservative Government whipping for next Monday?

Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)

What about your whipping?

Mr. Kinnock

As ever, ours is perfectly satisfactory. [Interruption.] I am sure that there are certain Conservative Members whom the Government wish would not turn up.

The right hon. Gentleman deserves thanks for at last arranging for a debate to take place on Thursday in prime time on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality. Is he aware that the decision to hold the debate on a motion for the Adjournment is objectionable, as it is a matter of some controversy and great importance, and that it would be far better for hon. Members on both sides for the subject to be debated on a "take note" motion, which could be subject to amendment?

Will the right hon. Gentleman speak to the Home Secretary and ensure that he speaks in the debate on Thursday, as it would be unacceptable if, on a matter of such significance, the Home Secretary was again to dodge his responsibilities?

Mr. Biffen

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that good and cordial relationships exist between the Patronage Secretary and myself, although the right hon. Gentleman, as a trade unionist, will know that it proceeds on a certain demarcation basis—I do not guide him on whipping and he does not guide me on a number of my responsibilities.

I will only comment—it is the bromide that one usually uses on these occasions—that my right hon. Friend will have heard what has been said.

I appreciate the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the form of the debate on the report of the Commission for Racial Equality and the suitability of the "take note" resolution procedure. Perhaps we can discuss that further through the usual channels, as can those who will take part in the debate.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

What reason have the Government for expecting that the private Member's Bill, the Rent (Amendment) Bill, which they are hoping will receive its Second Reading on the nod tomorrow, will reach the statute book this Session?

Mr. Biffen

I do not know, but I will look into the matter and be in touch with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

When shall we have a clear and definitive statement from the Minister for Health about the latest position on getting an appeals system in place to deal with the limited list of drugs? The matter is becoming extremely urgent.

Mr. Biffen

I appreciate the force of the point that my hon. Friend Makes and I shall draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The Leader of the House knows that I speak as chairman of the Co-operative parliamentary group in the House; I declare that interest. Is he prepared actively to persuade the Patronage Secretary and his other colleagues to think again about the three-line Whip that has been imposed for Monday's debate? What representations has he had on the matter from Conservative Members?

Mr. Biffen

I have cultivated a great innocence about whipping and I intend to keep it that way.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are now into local enterprise week. Is he aware that yesterday, on an Opposition motion on business and growth, there were at times only two Labour Members in the Chamber and that at another time no members of the Liberal party or of the Social Democratic party were present? Would it be possible for my right hon. Friend to organise an action replay of that debate so that Opposition Members can display some genuine credibility rather than just platitudes about the matter?

Mr. Biffen

For it to be an appropriate action replay, it would have to take place in Opposition time.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's announcement today that they are to give £250,000 to the Bradford disaster appeal — an action which was urged on the Government on Tuesday by the Leader of the Opposition —will be most welcome in Bradford and throughout the country? Now that the Prime Minister has had a further opportunity for reflection and discussion, will he urge her to make an early statement, certainly before we adjourn for the recess, about what contribution the Government will give to Bradford City football club for the rebuilding of Valley Parade?

Mr. Biffen

I acknowledge with gratitude what the hon. Gentleman says about the contribution of £250,000 which has been announced today. I shall look into the other point that he makes and refer it to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Will my right hon. Friend explain why the Government have taken over a private Member's Bill to promote Sunday trading, which was defeated by the House, whereas the Government have declined facilities for the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, which received the overwhelming support of the House?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend is very perceptive in political matters and I am saddened that he has overlooked the fact that on Monday we shall be debating not legislation but a report.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Following the publication of the results of the opinion poll in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, and recognising that a system of proportional representation assists parties which trail in some places, would it not be in the interests of the Leader of the House to organise an early debate to enable hon. Members to consider the reform of our electoral system based on proportional representation?

Mr. Biffen

We shall bear our short-lived adversity with dignity and courage.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

What action do the Government propose to take on the latest report of the Select Committee on Procedure, which has just been published?

Mr. Biffen

As my hon. Friend reminds the House, that report has only just been published. It is important for hon. Members to have an opportunity to reflect on its interesting range of proposals, and doubtless in due course we shall have a debate.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

In view of the bureaucratic nonsense that has emerged in relation to limited list prescribing and the bureaucratic tangle of the appeals procedure, will the right hon. Gentleman find time for my Generic Substitution (National Health Service) Bill, which is due for its Second Reading and which would get the Government off the hook, as it would still leave the clinical freedom of doctors to prescribe what they want to prescribe and at the same time save £200 million of National Health Service resources?

Mr. Biffen

It is a beguiling invitation for the Government to adopt a piece of private legislation, but one which I believe might be controversial hi current circumstances. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to permit me to rest on the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon).

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

When may we have a debate on the police, particularly with reference, first, to the question of missing children—as I told my right hon. Friend last week, more than 4,100 children went missing in the Metropolitan police area last year—and, secondly, to police operational methods? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 1984, in the London area alone, there were five fatal accidents and 43 serious injuries in such accidents involving police answering emergency calls? Does he agree that it is time that we had a full debate on the police?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend raises a matter of considerable interest but I must be disappointing in my response and tell him that there is no immediate prospect of Government time for such a debate. However, he will have noticed that there will be no fewer than eight Adjournment debates available on 24 May.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Has the Leader of the House had time to read early-day motion 672, in which there is an overwhelming expression of feeling by hon. Members on both sides of the House that there is need for an increase in the secretarial and research allowance available to hon. Members, and particularly to Back Benchers? [That this House believes that, in order to carry out their responsibilities to their constituents and to play a more effective role in the legislature, it has become urgently necessary for honourable Members to have, as a minimum requirement, the resources to employ a secretary and a research assistant paid direct by the Fees Office; and expects Parliament to provide these resources as a matter of urgency for every honourable Member who wishes to make use of such facilities.] Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available for us to discuss the matter so as to take the view of the House, especially as there is such clear feeling on it among hon. Members in all parts of the House?

Mr. Biffen

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. I am well aware of the terms of the motion and the names appended to it. I must point out, however, that the House fairly recently took a view on this matter, and there. I must rest my comments.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time for a debate soon on the workings of the Lloyd's Act 1982, which gave powers of self-regulation to part of the London insurance market? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people are disturbed by certain features of the Lloyd's scene, including the apparent lack of zeal in pursuing frauds and lack of adequate investor protection safeguards? There is concern also about the use of the immunity clauses in the Lloyd's legislation which allows the council of Lloyds to have immunity from paying damages in lawsuits. Can we investigate these matters before a great national asset's reputation is damaged further?

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend has made a fair point, but I must counter it with the observation that, in the near future, there is no likelihood of Government time being made available to debate the matter. I must say what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) — that there will be eight Adjournment debates on 24 May.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the Leader of the House be a little less flippant about the voting arrangements for the debate on Monday on Sunday trading? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that many people want to know why the Labour Benches will have a free vote while the Tory Benches are under instructions from the Prime Minister's Office through the Chief Whip to vote in favour of Sunday trading? Does that not require some explanation? Will the right hon. Gentleman put it to the Prime Minister that she should make an open statement to the House next week so that at least the Church of England and all the bodies interested in these matters fully understand what is happening next Monday in the House of Commons?

Mr. Biffen

My right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary will have heard those points.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

As the Government appear to be looking forward to a classless society, may we debate this fascinating subject? Will my right hon. Friend not be too hard on the upper classes and the landed interests who, in spite of some recent lapses, have made a great contribution to this place?

Mr. Biffen

I have some difficulty in answering my hon. Friend's point. Perhaps he will point out to me privately the catalogue of negligence and oversight by the Government which has led him to make this observation.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth Valley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman again consider whether to provide time to debate the closure of Bates pit in Northumberland, where 1,700 men are going to lose their jobs? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware—he did not appear to be aware of this last week when he rejected my application—that the National Coal Board in the north-east of England has deliberately refused to adopt the pit review procedure on closure, having unilaterally broken that agreement, and has dishonestly withdrawn guarantees to the NUM about the life of that pit which it gave as recently as January 1984? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are 29 million tonnes of workable coal in that pit which the NCB, for political reasons, refuses to work?

Mr. Biffen

I do not endorse the hon. Gentleman's strictures on the NCB. I shall certainly refer his point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to explain in great detail the restructuring package on teachers' pay that he would feel able to commend to his Cabinet colleagues so that there is greater understanding by moderates in the teachers' unions of the type of restructuring that would command support within the Government?

Mr. Biffen

I should like to be as generous as I can to a repentant sinner, but I think that the best way I can help my hon. Friend—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Not repentant—he never joined.

Mr. Biffen

I would not look to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield to be an authority on that type of dissent, unless he has now cornered for himself the position of authority on all types of dissent! I think that I can best help my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) by referring his points to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

When can the House debate and vote on the issue of televising Parliament? This would be an excellent opportunity to make Parliament more accessible to the British public and to highlight both the splits within the Conservative party and the so-called official Opposition's abject inability to provide credible alternatives.

Mr. Biffen

This is a serious subject, and its timing is a serious factor. This is not enhanced by the hon. Gentleman's trivialising comments on either the Opposition or the Government. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this matter will be proceeded with. We shall have to make a judgment which is largely related to what is happening in another place.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to read the article in tonight's London Standard entitled Wets rat on their sewer which refers not, in this case, to his colleagues but to other hon. Members who throughout the week have endured horrible physical conditions in the Cloisters? Wetness underfoot has meant that some of us have had to wear wellingtons. Others have had to bring in nosegays because of the stench. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to give some time for the House to debate the adequacy and inadequacy of Members' accommodation. Will the right hon. Gentleman make time available as soon as possible for such a debate?

Mr. Biffen

As a one-time occupant of the Cloisters, I am happy to assure the hon. Lady that the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee has been considering the problem of floods in the Palace of Westminster, and its review is progressing well.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I join the call for a free vote on the motion on Monday to take note of the Auld report. Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that this is a matter of conscience and ascertain whether the House can have a free vote on the Second Reading of the Bill which will be introduced on that subject?

Mr. Biffen

I assure my hon. Friend that I have absolutely no difficulty in passing on that message to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government's recently reviewed supplementary benefit regulations for the homeless, which force people to move every four weeks from area to area, is especially punitive to the mentally ill? Although the Government admit that they do not know the number of people in this category, I believe it is likely to be about 50,000 or 60,000. Should not Government cash be made available to build proper adequate housing for this unfortunate group so that they can be given the necessary care, support and help? This is especially important for those who are homeless but are not sufficiently ill to require hospitalisation. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this serious matter is a suitable subject for an early debate in Government time?

Mr. Biffen

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is one of the many matters that probably call for a debate, but I think that he should try his luck in an Adjournment debate.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the opening comments by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) —in response to the Adjournment debate on Monday this week on the economic divide between north and south? The Under-Secretary of State said that the subject needed "more time". Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Government to provide time to debate this important subject and reveal the action they propose to take to solve the problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman use his best diplomacy, in which we all know he is very capable, to persuade the Prime Minister to be present during that debate? The right hon. Lady believes that it is an alleged rift, and does not recognise that it is real.

Mr. Biffen

I am sorry that I must be disappointing in my response and say that I do not envisage any prospect of Government time being made available for an early debate. I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's topic to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 684 about flooding in the Cloisters, which has been signed by a number of hon. Members? [That this House deplores the massive penetration of water into the lower Cloisters on the night of 12th May; believes it to be offensive to the Members whose inadequate accommodation has been so damaged; further believes that the dampness, discomfort and bad odours should be removed as soon as possible; and also believes that it is yet another example of the warped sense of priorities that such inadequate accommodation is offered in the first place to the elected representatives of over a quarter of a million people.] Does he believe that, in relation to the points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the House should seriously debate the provision of accommodation and facilities that are available for hon. Members? If hon. Members are to represent their constituents properly, without relying on a private income, they need the facilities in which to do so. It is a serious matter. The flooding in the Cloisters this week is but an example of the problems that many Members face.

This evening's report in The London Standard misquotes the space available. I understand that the office of the Leader of the House is about 350 sq ft, whereas most hon. Members occupying desks in the Cloisters have 20 sq ft in which to work. Does he not think that that is just another example of inequality in this building?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, Sir. When I look at where I now work and where I used to in the Cloisters, I realise that it has made it all worth while. I wholly understand the seriousness of this problem, but I think that, in the first instance, we should await the report of the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee which is now considering the problem.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

If we ever get round to having the debate on proportional representation suggested by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), will the Leader of the House take into account the fact that it would be a different debate from those that we have had in the past? Representations are now being made by members of the alliance that, although they are in favour of proportional representation as a whole, they are not altogether too keen about it in relation to Orkney and Shetland and to Caithness and Sutherland because they are not sure that they can get the 50 per cent. necessary to take them over the top. Is that not another example of alliance hypocrisy —it is in favour of something in principle but does not want it to apply to everyone.

Mr. Biffen

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I look to the day when the Bolsover-North Shropshire axis will become a more recognisable factor in politics. He and I can expect the great party of principle to be sullied by more practical considerations as it gets nearer to the fruits of office.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was about to inform the hon. Member that I shall take points of order in the normal order after the next statement.